U.S. Senators Call For Obama To End Program Training Syrian Militants

A letter sent from a bipartisan group of four U.S. Senators on Friday called on the Obama administration to end its Syria Train and Equip Program, calling the program a “failed initiative” that needs to be stopped before causing “additional harm” to the Syrian people.

Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) criticized the program, which was originally presented as a way to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels in an effort to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS).

[pull_quote_center]We write to express our deep concern about the Syria Train and Equip Program and to call for an end to this failed initiative. When Congress was considering the program last year, many of us expressed our concerns about this program endangering Americans and further escalating the conflict.[/pull_quote_center]

The letter, which was addressed to Department of Defense secretary Ash Carter, Department of State secretary John Kerry and Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan, stated that the evidence from the program’s lack of success further supports their initial concerns.

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The senators noted that the program, which was “authorized at $500 million for Fiscal Year 2015,” has struggled to graduate “vetted” opposition fighters, and that General Lloyd Austin III, the commander of United States Central Command, recently said that only “four or five U.S.-trained opposition fighters were on the ground fighting in Syria.” The program’s initial goal was to train 5,000 fighters in its first year.

[pull_quote_center]The Syria Train and Equip Program goes beyond simply being an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. As many of us initially warned, it is now aiding the very forces we aim to defeat.[/pull_quote_center]

The senators cited a report from the U.S. Central Command which “confirmed that some of the fighters that we trained and equipped had turned over ammunition and trucks to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Al Nusra Front,” and that in exchange for safe passage, the U.S.-trained fighters “gave up approximately 25% of their U.S.-issued equipment.”

[pull_quote_center]With over 200,000 persons killed, 4 million refugees, and 7.6 million internally displaced people, the situation in Syria is absolutely tragic, and we must ensure that any U.S. efforts do not cause additional harm. We ask that you cease the Syria Train and Equip Program and look for alternative ways forward.[/pull_quote_center]

Late last month, the Obama administration corrected reports that the Syria Train and Equip Program had been suspended. Emily Horne, the spokesperson for the National Security Council, acknowledged that “We have clearly faced challenges with the Train & Equip program, and we are currently reviewing our efforts to determine how we can do better.” Horne also said that “we will continue our support for those forces on the ground while also continuing to refine and improve the Train & Equip program.”

Investigative journalist Ben Swann reported on the origin of ISIS in March, noting that ISIS experienced dramatic growth in 2014 “because of all the U.S. military equipment they were able to seize – equipment that our military left in Iraq.” 

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Swann also noted that even when the U.S. government “became aware that ISIS fighters were capturing U.S. equipment, it did nothing.”